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June 09, 2021

Chantale Zuzi

This former refugee is using her voice to build a more compassionate world

Chantale is a featured participant from USA for UNHCR’s Refugee Youth Storyteller’s Celebration, an opportunity to honor and recognize the creative voices of former refugees under the age of 30 who are now living in the United States.


Every human deserves the dignity of human rights and justice. My purpose in life is to ensure that every person is provided with those inalienable rights. This direction was determined by the earliest events of my life. At my birth, I was denied basic human rights. I was born an albino, and in my community, albinos are viewed as outcasts. Only my parents believed that I had a right to live. 

Growing up was a challenge, with no accommodations for students with limited vision. I told my mother that l did not see the purpose of going to school, but she reminded me how lucky I was -- she did not have such an opportunity because she was married at 14 years old. With my mother’s love and words in my heart, I realized my good fortune and built a determination to work hard. My success boosted my confidence. Despite my disadvantages, I was winning. 

Chanty Illustrated

At 13 years old, l lost my beloved parents in a massacre. This painful event changed my life. I had to become a mother for my siblings and learn early in my life to accept responsibility and be grateful for what I have. Since I was now unprotected, l was kidnapped and almost killed by people who were victimizing albinos. The killing of albinos in Africa is a crime against human dignity. My experience made me yearn for change. l was motivated to work hard in school and believed that I would fight for justice one day.

To save my life, I was forced to run away from my country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to a refugee camp in Uganda. In the camp, I never felt safe, and it was not easy to obtain even the necessities needed to survive. Forsaking my education was sorrowful for me. l learned never to take anything for granted. 

Because of my leadership skills and desire to help, the camp's large population with albinism elected me president when I was only 14 years old to address our unmet needs. For three years, I represented them to the government and to the UN Refugee Agency. The Ugandan government refused to give us refugee status, condemning us to an unsafe environment. I met with them every two weeks, recording our problems, connecting my community with services when needed and advocating for all of us to the Human Rights Commission. 

The Ugandan government representatives in the camp were not happy with my actions and threatened me. I could not remain under these circumstances. To protect my family, I made the painful decision to leave them in Uganda and traveled to Kenya alone. Upon my arrival in Nairobi, the UN took me to a safe house, run by RefuSHE. There I met other young refugee girls, some already mothers, who had experienced similar situations to mine. RefuSHE offered us a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue our education.

On September 19, 2018, I was resettled to the United States. As I arrived in Worcester, Massachusetts, I was excited to start a new life! After settling in, I enrolled at Burncoat High School. The Massachusetts Commission for the Blind provided me with many resources, and I could now excel, maintaining an A average.

I took college-level computer science classes at a community college and earned an MIT scholarship for coding. With the extra credits I earned, I was able to skip the tenth grade. I joined Dynamy, an after-school youth leadership program, and am also involved with Amnesty International. I am so grateful to the U.S. for affording me the opportunity for a bright future. 

As a result of my difficult journey so far, I have learned a great deal about what I contribute to my community. I bring my leadership skills and use them to help empower my peers. I lead by example, showing courage in adversity and generosity of spirit. I prioritize community service and encourage others to do the same. I share my passion for equality, justice, and human rights all over the world. I yearn to help others and to prevent any more people from suffering as I did. I always bring passion, enthusiasm, and commitment to everything I undertake.

I now have the privilege of interning with RefuSHE, a place I once called home. When I first began my internship, I knew it was important to make myself available when needed for individual mentoring and provide guidance to these young women since I had experienced the same journey myself as a resettled RefuSHE alum. I am so proud to work with these young women and I look forward to seeing how they will flourish in life. The opportunity I have been granted to help impact others' lives has also been a gift to me. I see a future where every single refugee the world over is granted the opportunities they deserve.

My dream is to work with the UN and help to build international peace.

The cold of the world has touched my heart, but it has not taken away my strength, power, or compassion. I consider myself resilient and a survivor. The challenges I have faced drive my deep desire to become involved with human rights advocacy, helping others gain a better future like the one that awaits me.

Chantale’s story is just one voice from the Refugee Youth Storyteller’s Celebration we are sharing in recognition of World Refugee Day on June 20.

How you can help…

Want to help more refugees like Chantale find safety and a chance to rebuild? Add your name to the petition to support the Biden Administration renewing our commitment to refugees and robustly increasing annual U.S. refugee admissions.